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Smart Growth 101: How smart growth planning principles create more sustainable, accessible communities

By Chris Falzarano on 7/22/2014

In recent years, “smart growth” has become an increasingly popular phrase. As a concept, it has garnered support from the likes of designers, developers and public officials. However, it has also become a term that is frequently tossed around without a full understanding of what it means. Smart growth is a planning principle that focuses heavily on creating accessible communities. It gives communities more choices—from transportation to housing to the workplace—and encourages the investment and development of existing communities to meet the needs of all households. All too often an area becomes progressively more expensive to live, pricing out parts of its existing population. Conceptually, smart growth has the ability to at least slow down the numbers of people leaving for more affordable communities by creating a range of housing options, including affordable housing. The focus on creating affordable homes ensures they are compact and green in design. The construction of smaller, greener homes leads to more densely populated communities, giving them the capacity to be more self-sufficient. It also cuts the cost to homeowners by reducing energy and water consumption. Despite the communities becoming more densely populated, smart growth accounts for ways to reduce traffic. In addition to creating environments where people can afford to live closer to their jobs, smart growth develops alternative means of transportation, including sidewalks, bicycle paths and more intuitive public transportation systems. It increases accessibility, providing new opportunities to those who previously lacked a way to reach their destination.

On top of its economic advantages, smart growth also improves the health of communities. By using public transit to cut down traffic, congestion and air pollution are reduced. The addition of physical activity to the daily lives of residents is an added benefit. Wider sidewalks and bike paths encourage communities that would typically drive to their destinations to travel in healthier ways. Other environmental advantages to smart growth include the protection of water quality. The proximity of homes to schools, stores and jobs creates less of a need for paved roads, which preserve natural spaces for things such as public parks and athletic fields. With this accomplished, stormwater runoff becomes secondary. The natural spaces used for parks and recreation act as a filter for stormwater, whereas the stormwater runoff from paved surfaces collects pollutants that are hazardous to surrounding bodies of water.

On Long Island, examples of smart growth are beginning to pop up with greater frequency as these areas become heavily invested in the concept. The Village of Patchogue is one of the Island’s more predominant smart growth success stories. Patchogue, at one time a destination for many, found itself in the midst of an economic struggle. Many of the downtown storefronts in place for generations were being boarded up. Residents were flocking to the surrounding areas that seemed to have a more promising future. However, over the last decade, Patchogue’s downtown has been reborn. With the support of political officials and the surrounding community, the boarded-up storefronts have become a central hub for entertainment, dining and the arts. There has been development of affordable housing, mixed-use development and townhouse complexes. Updates have been made to the Village’s infrastructure, such as those made to its wastewater treatment plants to support the growth. In just a matter of years, smart growth has provided a boost to a community that was struggling to get back on its feet.

Around Long Island, other communities are starting to show signs of smart growth as the concept gains more steam. Farmingdale is nearing completion on a $38 million mixed-use apartment building near their railroad station. The development, which will contain 39 apartments and 6,200 square feet of retail space, plans to open its doors in 2015. The Village of Hempstead has put in place a $2.5 billion downtown redevelopment plan that will develop everything within a half-mile of its train station. In the works are new residences, shops, a hotel, entertainment venues and parking. The plan will create over 13,500 jobs, 10,000 of which will be in construction, with the remainder going to village residents. Following years of traditional suburban sprawl in our communities, smart growth requires a significant ideological shift, and turning the concept into a reality will not be simple. However, if the right balance is achieved, smart growth can help support local economies, improve quality of life and protect our environment. For more information on smart growth development, please contact Bob Scheiner at rscheiner@h2m.com.

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